My mom died 12 years ago today. I really miss her. She’s the one who gave me my name. If she told the story once, she told it a couple hundred times. Because of an illness and treatment my father had had years before I was conceived, they didn’t know if I would survive to birth. So they didn’t attach to me and, when I was born, I didn’t have a name. For three days, I was “Phelps girl.” On the third day, my mom looked at me and said, “You’re my bundle of joy.” I’ve been told countless times that my name fits me. Actually, I think I came to fit my name. All my life, my parents treated me like I was wanted and loved, like I was a joy to the family. I became who they said I was.
I did the same thing to our son, Matthew. For no reason whatsoever, I was sure he was going to be a girl, so we never settled on a name for a son. When he was born, he, like me, was nameless. My husband left the hospital that night and said, “You know the names I like. Tell me his name in the morning.” Really. He did that. The next morning, after much pondering, I looked at our son and said, “You are my gift.” “Matthew” means “gift of the Lord,” and I realized his name was Matthew. He is 19 years old now, and is the most content and abundant person I’ve ever known. He needs and wants nothing. I wonder if this is, at least in part, because his whole life he has been told the story of his name. He has been filled by the knowledge that he was wanted and of his basic value before he had ever done a thing. What else could he want?
So what’s your name? What’s your story? This is not necessarily about your literal name, but the labels that have been placed on you, the stories that have been told about you. Matthew’s story and mine attest to the power of a name and a story. It matters greatly who you say you are and who others say you are. Your name can lift you up or bury you. The good news, the great news, is that our God is in the re-naming business. He loves to give people new names and new stories. Simon became Peter, which means “rock” (John 1:42); Abram became Abraham, “the father of a multitude” (Genesis 17:5); and Sarai became Sarah, “mother of nations” (Genesis 17:15). This is just scratching the surface. These names communicate the promise of God and project who they are — and will be — as God’s children. These folks all lived in to the new names God gave them.
Have you been carrying around a name that isn’t true? One that isn’t consistent with who God says you are and will be? Others may have called you by that name, but our God loves you and wants to give you a new name: beloved, precious child, perfect as you are, promising, worth dying for. Maybe it is time for a re-naming.